Mark Williams on Mindfulness – Free Ebook

so I first of all want to say thank you to the school of life for inviting me here this morning and for this amazing introduction of feeling groovy from Simon & Garfunkel it’s a way of sort of stratifying an audience isn’t it sing something from the 60s which was re-released in the 80s and and then we see who knows the buttered arse so I’ll start with the sound of a bell and see if you can notice when the Bell stops and the silence takes over here’s a poem by David White enough these few words are enough if not these words this breath if not this breath this sitting here this opening to the life we have refused again and again until now until now so what I want to do today is to talk a little bit about mindfulness and perhaps to practice a little to continue the practice that we’ve already started with the standing breath meditation that we’ve just been led in and the poem by David White talking about what is mindfulness and then what’s it for does it work and how does it work and then what are the practical implications of these new understandings from science and from the ancient wisdom so first of all then what is mindfulness well in mindfulness and in mindfulness meditation we’re training mental capacities using secular forms of ancient spiritual exercises they’ve been kept alive over the centuries mostly by the Buddhists mostly in Asia but in the 1950s and 1960s those a dispersion of people from the east who came to the west and started to teach us in the West what we formerly could have only learned if we’d taken a long journey to Asia some people are put off by the idea that it’s Buddhist and yet as my colleague John peacock at the Oxford mindfulness Center says Buddhism really just means wake up ISM and it was originally in our terms a secular practice a way of living a practical philosophy a map for how to alleviate suffering which anybody was invited to to try it deliberately set aside the idea of dogma of beliefs in fact the last recorded words of the person we now know as the Buddha was something like just go and do it he emphasized finding out for yourself rather than taking anybody else’s words for it the word mindful is itself is a translation of a Pali word the language of India at the time of the Buddha the word is sati and sati means awareness originally it meant memory or at least non forgetfulness and it came to mean awareness in rather the same way we would talk about talk to a child in a Cathedral saying remember where you are you’re not actually asking the child to remember something except to be aware of where they are with all the consequences of trying of course to shut up a child in a Cathedral which is you end up making more noise than the child was in the first place so awareness comes to mean a sort of direct intuitive and compassionate turning inwards and turning outwards to the world a sense of knowing what’s going on as it really is going on a sense of turning towards reality in the internal and in the external world and it’s a vogue interest in rather surprising ways in the West right now partly because of the discoveries of those who practice it which have now been verified by science and science can sometimes do a good job for the skeptics because it helps some people have a gateway in to say well if it’s if it shows up in the brain then it must be true and that’s fair enough it does show up in the brain and will refer to that later but it’s been shown to do at least two things and I want to spend some time this morning on each one of these first of all to transform destructive emotions and secondly to help people reengage with the actuality of life a sense of living life to the full a sense of being fully alive and not sort of hiding behind something but being fully engaged with life so let’s first of all look at this business of transforming destructive emotions most of our work as has been said is working with people who are depressed and as you know depression involves low mood it involves a lack of interest in things and this seems to go on and on and on and more symptoms are drawn in if you have a clinical diagnosis of depression it’s not just the low mood and the lack of interest in things that used to be interested in but you feel guilty you feel worthless you feel that you’re not good enough you can’t concentrate it affects your eating and your sleeping and you may even feel so bad you feel like ending it all and all of these symptoms if they if they co-occur together for weeks at a time then probably at some stage you or your friends or your doctor will say I think you may be depressed and generally speaking there are antidepressants available and they work pretty well and nothing of what I’m going to say is anti medication because medication can be a lifesaver but with the research now showing that there are alternatives to that that’s also very helpful for people who don’t want to be on medication for a long time the point and what we’re discovering in our research and this is research done by myself but also with colleagues in Cambridge John Teasdale and Zindel Siegel in Toronto based very closely on the work of our colleague John kabat-zinn in in America who worked with this with chronic pain our work is trying to understand why it is that something that is a normal part of life like sadness and fear why it persists and escalates if we can begin to understand that we begin to understand what it is we could do about it one of the things we know about depression for example is that although it can strike at any age the most common age at which it first strikes is between 13 and 15 years old so early teenage years and that’s different from how it was five or six decades ago when it used to be a problem of late middle age and that bump in the curve has got younger and younger decade by decade since the 60s now the average age at which people get depressed is in their 20s but most people for the first experience their first episode in early teenage years and that means that for something that tends to recur like depression does there’s a long life of recurrence ahead of people and I’m going to come back to that in due course the question is not why sadness occurs in life because it’s a normal reaction to loss why fear occurs in life as a normal reaction to danger but why it persists and escalates and there’s an interesting contrast here with the animal kingdom if you take fear for example then you see that animals can be very afraid but then they can recover quite quickly if you’ve got a dog and you just told it off for something evil that it did on your carpet and you know that it will look remorseful for about 10 minutes and then next time you come in it’ll be wagging its tail and you know it seems to have got over its remorse and even more striking is the fear behavior that you see on virtually every nature documentary that visits Africa you may know if you’ve ever seen a nature documentary and you can’t avoid them with HD channels now but if it goes to Africa there’s a compulsory scene the compulsory scene is a lion or a leopard chasing gazelles and you see these little creatures just look in alarm at suddenly the whole herd which has been grazing suddenly stops they’ve seen the film crew I don’t know that soon there’s going to be a lion or a leopard so these poor creatures that evolved to deal with lions and leopards now have to learn something new David Attenborough’s on the way so and then of course the the lion starts off with starts racing and if it’s a lion’s lucky day that it gets one of the gazelles and takes it you know takes it off but what do you notice about the rest of the herd within about five or six minutes yeah absolutely they continue to graze there’s something really striking about that when you think about it because if you’d been able to measure the brains of those little creatures while they were running away we know that their limbic system their emotional brain the amygdala and all the other aspects of the brain that generate fight and flight would have been going crazy it not a technical term for what happens in the brain but they would it and then it’s extraordinary that that panic that actually we know what that feels like many of us if we’ve been really afraid that that could then disappear so quickly what’s happened is that they’ve evolved a fear system which actually needs to switch on when there’s danger but it needs to switch off again very quickly when the danger is past and if the Lions got a gazelle then probably is going to be three days grazing before the lion appears again they have to eat to live and so they go back to eating and something which switched on in a very dramatic way then switches off in just a dramatic way now humans have evolved something else as well as this ancient fight flight mechanism we’ve overlaid it with something else and that’s the ability to think the ability to remember their ability to imagine we can actually create a virtual world and that’s a remarkable thing and we can go to the moon because of this extraordinary problem-solving virtual world we can we age we can envision envisage things that we’ve never actually seen before created out of our natural intelligence but that has a downside part of the virtual world we can create we can recreate or remember we collect past traumas and we can of course imagine future traumas imagine a six-story building like you see in many parts of London built in the height of a Victorian era with a basement where all the services are located you know the heating and the the air well the equivalent of air conditioning for Victorians whatever it was the heating and the lighting and the water sprinklers and so on serviced by some people who live down in the basement and they make sure that the temperature is controlled and the air is controlled and and so on and now over the over the decades different people move in and rent the spaces upstairs but then in 1930s and 40s you get the advent of of talkies of movies and a film production company moves in on the top floor but nobody tells the basement and they start making a film Scott of the Antarctic and so the basement here’s all these cold winds so it starts to get the heat turned up and the result is chaos because it wasn’t a real wind it was actually just a film production company making the wind or Lawrence of Arabia so they start feeling the heat of the desert and and hearing you know those are the people sweating you hear people sweat oh I think so if you’ve watched lawrence of arabia’s that you lot you hear a lot of people sweating or even worse towering inferno so they turn on the sprinklers that was a film made a few years ago not quite as old as the groovy song but so you need something to coordinate the top floor on the bottom floor you need something which actually lets the basement know that actually is a film production company they’re creating virtual reality and if you don’t it’s a recipe for chaos and one of the things that we have evolved is this ability to think and to imagine but nobody tell the limbic system so although we have some pretty good mechanisms for actually controlling as it were the new neocortex the part of the brain that devolved last and the under limbic system which evolved very early though there are some amazingly dramatic sort of balances to be struck there when we tend to get involved in that and start to actually think about ourselves and think about what could go wrong we start to create more problems than we started with I when I was coming here today I live in a little village just outside Oxford and it’s it’s a village in a bit over in a bit of a dip so as I was coming down towards the the High Street of this village it’s not a very grand High Street is about about this wide but there were two there’s a further I think and two of his children coming down the little Lane on the other side and the two children were ahead of the father and one of them girl was cycling quite fast and I could see there was a car coming from the left but the father couldn’t see so as I was walking I could see the girl gathering pace and the car coming from the left and just last moment she put on some very noisy brakes and she stopped just as her dad had told her to and the car went past and I saw another car and I thought my heart was my mouth now as I was on the bus I started to notice that there was a lot of what if going on in my mind what if she hadn’t stopped what if they’d been accident what if this what if and I started to actually create a whole narrative based on what didn’t happen and this is what can happen in our in our daily life that actually we build stories around so that our thoughts our mental life is full of little seeds of reality surrounded by a shell of story and that’s the point that often our emotions get run by this stories rather than by the reality that’s not always the case but that can happen so easily indeed as some research on post-traumatic stress disorder which is a very disabling condition in which people have had some trauma like a road traffic accident or an assault many years later still suffer from flashbacks and anxiety and nightmares and and trembling and and interestingly that if you look at the content of those flashbacks there’s one study suggests that 50 percent of those are what didn’t happen so that very often after an accident people say what if I’d been killed what would happen to my children who would have looked out of my family and that can be just as much torture as the memory of the actual accident itself what so what begins to surround it and then of course you can then blame yourself for still having these thoughts oh I’m so stupid for thinking like this and that David Clarke and anchor Earle is working here in London have found on PTSD that sense of putting another rim around the story which is I’m stupid to have such stories tending to trying to suppress them actually just recreate them so here we have something which actually sometimes goes wrong with our life sometimes very traumatic but it turns out that nothing is so bad that the story we create can’t make it worse and that goes for the really horrible things of life as well as an accident which actually didn’t happen because the little girl put her brakes on really successfully and as she put the brakes on her brother overtook her and as they disappeared down the high street I heard her shouting Oliver I was in front and there’s family life so our ability to remember and imagine unlike the gazelles we don’t stop running and that becomes a big problem now that’s drama but actually of course it can happen for even ordinary feelings now I don’t know whether you feel tired at the moment but if you’ve got up rather late this morning because you had a really nice night last night you might feel a bit tired so just just to do this little exercise I want you to just close your eyes and just tune into how tired you’re feeling right now however that is for you you may or may not be tired but just if there’s any tiredness there just focus on it for a moment and then just try a few thoughts why me why am I feeling like this what does it say about me that I’m tired and what will happen if I can’t get over it so just focusing on the tiredness and perhaps even wishing that you weren’t so tired why and then opening your eyes now for those of you who are actually able to ask the question why and why me how did you feel worse hmm to the extent that that question sort of sinks in it often makes us feel worse and that’s a peculiar aspect that something an innocuous question like why or why me or even innocuous question like you know what’s wrong because actually asking a question likes what’s wrong is a perfectly legitimate question if you’re traveling from A to B and you’ve sort of you know you’ve turned off the Sat Navs gone wrong and you’re lost a bit which which road did I turn wrong where did I go wrong where did I go wrong it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask but if you’ve just asked yourself I wish I wasn’t so tired where did I go wrong when you put those two sentences together then actually one can feel even worse and when you think about it if you wake up in the morning often I don’t know whether you get this but for five or ten minutes there’s what’s called post sleep torpor you don’t recognize that post-sleep torpor because it’s got a name it must be real post-it well next time you wake up and you feel or realize that it’s only post sleep torpor and everybody I mean how many people in this room suffer from post sleep talker they were and see it’s not just me not just you it’s it’s a it’s an ordinary thing to say it’s that transition between being asleep and waking up but you know very often we can start brooding at that point we can start brooding oh all I thought it was Saturday and it’s not that’s the first thing I wish it was Saturday so okay you’ve got a wish there right why me why does this always happen yeah gradually and then you start thinking all the things you’ve got to do that day yeah well and you soon exhaust yourself with the anticipation as if you’ve already done them by the time you get up you’ve already had today’s work and you haven’t even started yet so you see how just even ordinary things if we’re not aware if we don’t catch the thoughts we can actually get dragged down and enveloped and meshed and tangled how many other words can I think of this and into a huge web of thoughts and the problem is when our mood gets entangled in a web of thinking and we aren’t able then to be with the mood with the sadness with the fear we actually are trying to suppress all the stories that we tell ourselves if only we’ve come back to the pure mood and be courageous enough to stay with it a few moments more we may discover that it might go off by its own accord so let’s just do a three-minute breathing space just a three-minute meditation in which we explore this noticing what’s going on in our mind and body so if it’s possible to uncross your legs and put both feet on the floor if that’s possible and allow the spine to be straight so that you’re adjusting your posture in a sort of gesture of waking up letting the eyes close if that feels comfortable to you or just lowering the gaze and noticing this posture letting the hands rest lightly on the lap the spine is straight but not stiff the shoulders are dropped and the head the crown of the head pointing towards the ceiling the chin tucked slightly in and taking a breathing space so the first step of the breathing space is simply to open and acknowledge what’s already going on in your mind and body right now the sense of knowing what the weather patterns like inside what thinking is here any feelings any emotions not trying to change anything simply allowing things to be just as they are any body sensations and then letting one of this fade into the background and step two of the breathing space gathering our attention and placing it on the breath wherever you feel the breath moving in and out of your body may be the tip of the nose it may be the chest maybe the abdomen just settling on one place and resting just abiding here and you may notice that your mind wanders away from the breath from time to time and it’s not a mistake if you’ve got a mind it’ll wander so simply notice where it went and gently escort the attention back to the breathing and it may wander again and that’s fine to simply notice where it went and bring it back over and over again and then the third step of the breathing space expanding the attention to the body as a whole sitting here as if your whole body was breathing now noticing the contact with the floor with a chair the hands on the lap noticing your posture and see if it’s possible to allow yourself to be exactly as you are and allow your body to be exactly as it is a sense of coming home to the body okay so opening your eyes and taking in the room again so a sense of actually allowing things to be as they are mindfulness one of the myths about meditation is that it’s about clearing the mind and actually it’s about waking up to the patterns of the mind rather than clearing the mind some of my friends who are Christians are quite worried about meditation because they say if you clear the mind the devil will get in and and I can understand their concern if you if you believe in the devil that finding every way any which way to get in especially when it’s 7-foot dressed in red the thought of clearing the mind and having the devil come in it’s very worrying but if there is a devil he or she is much more likely to get in when you’re on automatic pilot rather than when you’re aware and awake to what’s happening in your mind and body when you’re aware and awake that’s probably what the devil doesn’t like and that’s why this sort of practice this sense of journey into silence has been at the heart of every religious tradition over the centuries it’s part of the Christian tradition it’s part of the Islamic tradition certainly in Sufism it’s part of every religious tradition has the sense of a journey to the heart of silence as a way of really coming to know who you really are at your core with compassion rather than with judgment and it’s a big ask and it takes some practice but it turns out to be worth it so let’s now turn to the second reason why it seems that mindfulness is very popular why it’s invoking so much interest and that’s this business about re-engaging with life so this is not about transforming destructive emotion so much as just being alive from moment to moment instead of being wrapped up in preoccupation and it’s not just depression where we need to perhaps be concerned that we’re a bit wrapped up most of the time you may know about the experiment that was done on the Cornell campus in America where some psychologists went out and they got actors to to pretend to go out and ask people on the campus the directions to one of the buildings they say I’m lost can you show me the way and they found somebody would show them of the way and just as the conversation had started and the person starts the given directions they arrange for people to go past carrying a large door and these people Bard rudely in between the interviewer and the interviewee and while the door is obscuring them from view each from view they change the person who’s asking the question now how many people notice the change it turns out about 50% don’t notice the change they’re now talking to a different person different clothes different height different hair color they’ve even done a version of that experiment in which you put an advert outside saying anybody any volunteers for a psychology experiment Oatley only take 15 minutes please come in here and people enter the building and come to a sort of a dais like this like a desk like a sort of reception area and somebody says what will it only take fifty meter slowly to take 15 minutes okay yeah okay I’ve got fifty minutes I’ll do it okay fill in this form so the guy gives him the form and so he fills in his name thanks very much and then person comes up a hold of him and it’s a different person and then they go into the room to do the experiment and the experiment it says did you notice anything strange about what happened just now No that was the experiment it turns out 75% of people that means that 75% of you now don’t realize this actually I’m not me just keep quiet for the rest of the lecture okay keeps grabbing my ankles okay okay down Kato and the sort of a sense of our the way we normally love our life we live our lives on inference we’ve already talked about model building what people didn’t realize until recently was this building the model of the world actually goes for our attention and what we are tending to as much as our memories and our future actually our moment-by-moment attention is governed by and our consciousness governed by guesses about what’s likely to happen which we just confirm and if somebody disappears for a moment and reappears we weren’t guessing that we weren’t pay attention we just accept it as normal we don’t even notice the difference and this if that was only true on Cornell we might you know figure well that’s just the Americans but it’s not I remember once I came down here from Oxford today on the Oxford tube which is actually a bus that’s just to fool you it’s not the tube it’s a big red bus that you see snarling up the traffic in in London and the Oxford tube comes DUP and down to London quite regularly so I got the Aqsa tube this morning and it reminded me of a of a of a time when I came on the Oxford tube before to go to the Albert Hall for one of the proms my daughter had bought me a a ticket the program was full of my favorite music so we went up was from my birthday treat and we had a meal and then sat down and you know quite high up actually and she want that well off at the time and and then we sit down and and watching I think it was Walton Sea Symphony and we’re about ten minutes in I was really enjoying the music having enjoyed the meal and the music was absolutely sublime and just being in the Albert Hall is always a treat um and about 10 minutes in this thought crept into my mind I wonder which bus I’ll get back well it rather depends how fast they take the Bolton well on my LP it was double-sided so it’s probably quite long actually what double saw I remember now it was a long piece and then there’s the interval how long with you know how long was it internally I know no there’s that and then to that in this data note oh we probably get out of here by back to quarter to ten and then there’s the walk across Hyde Park and then is it and then I suddenly realized I wasn’t actually in the Albert Hall I wasn’t listening to the music at all I was I was on the bus back home and it’s not as if you can miss the Oxford tube at 10 o’clock at night it still runs every 20 minutes you can’t miss it you just have to turn up at the bus stop and one always comes within 20 minutes and therefore it was a completely needless exercise but you know my mind it’s always trained to plan was now on the next moment and this is one thing that there are Buddhist teachers and across the centuries have pointed out to us so technicon was a very famous Vietnamese teacher he illustrates this by talking about where is your mind when you’re doing the dishes and generally because dishes are not a fantastic beautiful moment your mind is usually on something else perhaps what you’re going to do next and maybe you plan when you’re done when you’ve cleared up this lot you’ll just have a cup of tea in a cup of coffee or whatever before you go off to probably not and a cup of coffee at least probably you’re choosing one of them which is probably what you’re doing when it will it be tea will it be coffee you know these momentous decisions so you and then but where are you when you’re drinking your tea you’re probably actually planning the next activity and you look at the cup and you think I’m five minutes time and it’s empty and you think nor did I just drink that tea there’s nobody else around so it must have been me and so you go on in life just leaning forward into the next activity rather than being with this one because this one’s trivial in you know and it’s sort of like you’re postponing life until you can next get a holiday or until you get until after Christmas in a new year which is always seems better than this year somehow until January 3rd and you and you switch on your emails again and you realize they haven’t all gone away and the sort of sense in which you’re leaning forward into the next moment you know when you’re on your way to the supermarket you’re just thinking what I’m going to buy and when you’re going round the thing you’re wondering about whether the checkouts are going to be busy and then when you’re standing the queue you’re wondering about why did I choose this queue and then wondering whether you should make a dash to the next queue and then you’re cursing yourself when the lady in front hasn’t doesn’t know the price of the bread and you know the bar chart has fallen off its other bar chart is it’s a barcode and the bar chart is what we show in science and then so and then you’ll think about on the drive home and then the cooking or whatever so you’re leaning forward to the next moment just like you were when you drank that tea you weren’t with the tea and it’s interesting that when the school of life got in touch to say would I come and do a sermon they sent me the brief it said see if you can put something in which is like a lesson for life oh it’s difficult okay not a big ask then but I think actually when I think about tick net Hanlon is T I think if there’s one thing that we need to take away it’s the sense that we don’t want to wake up six weeks away from our death or six months we’ve got six months to live and look back on our life as we looked at that gap was that my life that I’ve just had because I don’t know about what religious beliefs you have but probably this is the only life we’re going to get at least in this body and therefore it’s worth waking up because the thought of actually waking up too late is actually pretty scary and it doesn’t have to be that way that’s the point that is something we can do about it and one of the motivating things and I think why mindfulness people are beginning to just spend a few minutes a day in silence because it begins to tune up the capacity to be awake to be aware for just a few more moments in the day and maybe that’s enough to actually notice our children to notice the Albert Hall to notice the buildings to look up occasionally and see oh hello to look up occasionally and see that there are people up above us and there are buildings up above us up above our psyche line and there’s clouds and there’s birds and this and they don’t all have to be beautiful things we don’t have to become hello Birds hello sky hello trees father intent on us if you know the reference it’s a sort of sense of actually just being alive noticing the footfall on the ground is enough when we’re walking from the car or from the bus to where we have to go that actually turns out to be enough so let’s just do another short meditation and just focus on the soles of our feet for a moment so if you just put the cells or feet back down on the ground and let’s see if it’s possible to notice what it’s like to be breathing but actually also to notice that the soles of our feet are also part of our body we don’t often take our attention there see if it’s possible to just let the eyes close or the lower the gaze and notice what’s going on now if you feel nothing from the soles of your feet then that’s okay just register a blank soles of the feet are quite a convenient place to rest our attention is a long way away from the head well five or six feet so just noticing what’s here maybe vibration sense of pulsing notice if some sensations come and go move into awareness and out of awareness changing fluxing sensations and then allowing that attention to spread to the rest of the body that quality of attention a sense of acknowledging that we’re alive and they were breathing and we have this moment so letting the eyes open and taking you the room again and let’s now come to the third and final reason why mindfulness is grabbing attention and I think it comes to the science that’s fine findings from science which mindfulness came to the West at about the right time when neuroscience was beginning to get interested in the science of consciousness and so there’s a lot of neuroscience going on I’m not to go into much detail I want to start with some clinical findings because as I said our interest Jon Teasdale and Zindel Siegel and mine was to see if we could find a way of teaching these practices to people who had been depressed many times in the past and were known to be very vulnerable and 75 to 77 percent of people in our trials had been depressed for three or more times and what we found was eight weeks of training in mindfulness training doing these sort of practices both in the classes people come to class it’s not like a therapy group in which you talk about your problems you don’t need to speak at all you just need to come and learn skills it’s a skills training class in which people learn the skills of meditation and eight weeks two hours a week and then we monitor people for the critical next 12 months in which we knew from that from past research so that would be a critical time if we could get people through those 12 months it would be wonderful and we found that 60 in the first study 66% of people relapsed if they were just in the control group and had their usual care antidepressants or whatever but only 37% of people relapsed if they’d had this eight weeks of training so it almost half the risk of relapse and now studies will be done all over the world after that first study and have shown that that’s true whether it in Switzerland or Toronto or Belgium or different countries with different teachers so hovering the risk of relapse and now studies show that it’s as good as antidepressants do if you keep taking your antidepressants you get about that sort of result so here’s an alternative or one study shows you can do it with antidepressants you don’t have to give up your antidepressants you can do it as well and still get that same benefit so that’s I should say that you should never come off your antidepressants without consulting a doctor lots of people do but it’s worth depending on what you’re taking it’s always worth getting medical advice so that’s one piece of research which is creating a great deal of interest within the mental health field because here’s an alternative and in some parts of the world where you can’t get access to expensive medicines but where people think it’s important because it’s from the West this important antidepressant pill but the trouble is that for example in Vietnam people get their pills from the pharmacist and they can sometimes only afford three days supply but three days supply of antidepressants is not going to do anything you might get some side effects but there’ll be no therapeutic effect but doing this this can be trained and it can be portable and it doesn’t depend on external supports the second sort of research is research showing that it increases well-being particularly because of this coming into contact with the world and beginning to live your life fully because many of us rush around all the time and so we just get into the habit of rushing and we can have this sort of an illusion of creative productivity you know if we just show that we’re rushing this is just shows how good we are how busy we are how creative we are how productive we are actually all the research shows that just the opposite takes place and one of the reasons for that and colleague David Cresswell in the United States actually measured how much people were mindful or mindless and mindless in his case was people who rush around never taste the food never you know never think where they’re going or was forgetting things and so on and not true many of us of course he emerged their brains and found that the amygdala was like stuck on the on position that part of the brain that’s the fight/flight so rather than rushing as it were to get things done the brain is operating as if you’re running away from a tiger and that’s extraordinary because we know that stress actually produces a tunnel vision in which it destroys creativity why because actually it literally does reduce the amount of information you take in to a tunnel because we’ve evolved when we’re under great stress and being chased by a predator to only see the way from here to the rabbit hole yeah if you see rabbits that are getting down the rabbit hole they don’t look right or left they don’t play anymore they don’t eat anymore they just go for the hole so tunnel vision and that’s what happens in stress in fact you can do experiments with what’s called the Snowy pictures paradigm and that is you show pictures but they’re all sort of rather covered in snow and you can’t really see what it is and the experiment is very simple it’s as a luggable Rolf Harris question do you know what it is yet now that also puts people in layers for the audience I’m sorry about that and do you know what is it so you try and guess what it is and you you take longer if you’re under stress to get it right because it seems you’re actually just focusing on the little bit in the middle but to get it right you need to see the whole picture you need to take all it all the information but you just focus on a small picture and it’s interesting that they’ve shown that it that the effect can be very subtle so you do the Snowy pictures sort of paradigm you see how quickly people get it do you know what it is yet but you ask people either to press down on the table they’re sitting at or to put their hand under the table and just press up now what do you think that does pressing down or pressing up can you think of what body movement is involved in pressing down just think about that for a moment you’re pushing away absolutely and what body movements involved in pushing up very gentle pushing up is actually pulling towards and actually what that does and there’s lots of research on this that actually if you just push away or push pull towards the brain is put into a a different configuration either approach or avoidance so for example you should get people to look at happy or sad words on the or pleasant or unpleasant words on the screen and you say as soon as you see the word tell me whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant and well if it’s Pleasant just pull the joystick towards you if it’s unpleasant push it away people do that very fast but if you say if it’s a pleasant word push the joystick away from you people take a long time to do that because in that moment pushing away is not the instinct so pushing away pulling towards reconfigures the brain is approach or avoidance dance and interestingly if you do this putting your hand under the table or putting your hand on top of the table and then you ask people do the Snowy pictures people who are pressing down don’t see the pictures as quickly but people who are pulling towards ducey they see the whole picture so it turns out that when we’re under stress and we’re rushing around we’re actually trying to avoid something rather than get things done although we might think we’re trying to get things done and the effect of that is actually we don’t see the whole picture we think we’re being creative but our minds are as it were captured in a sort of tunnel vision so this is a sort of research that’s shown that uses the brain brain imaging we know that we can capture that that reconfiguration of the brain in some of the work that Richard Davidson has done in America some of the work we’ve done at Oxford replicating that you can you can see the brain configure in the approach and avoidance position and what mindfulness training is partly about is waking up to the actual life that we live it’s not trying to as it were get somewhere based on fear it’s actually a way of discerning what our deepest values are and living in line with those values and so just to finish off the last two minutes let’s do another meditation and then I’ll read a poem by RS Thomas so once again just coming and being aware of where we are and sitting and noticing the sitting and breathing noticing that we’re breathing and noticing what’s going on in our minds and bodies right now and seeing it’s possible to allow them to be just as they are focusing on the breathing and gathering the attention letting it a light on the breath just now wherever we feel the breath moving not trying to make it different from how we find it not trying to control the breath simply allowing it to be as it is and then broadening the attention expanding the attention to take in the body as a whole once again sitting here a sense of being complete and whole just as we are accepting our bodies and ourselves just as we are and here are some words from our s Thomas the brightfield I have seen the Sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while and gone my way and forgotten it but that was the pearl of great price the one field that had the treasure in it I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it life is not hurrying on to a receding future nor hankering after an imagined past it is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once but is the Eternity that awaits you and so allowing the eyes to open when you’re ready taking in the room again Joseph Campbell once said people who say say that all we’re looking for is that we’re all looking for the meaning of life is that I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking I think what we’re really seeking is the experience of being alive and the extraordinary discovery that we can make again and again is that the Eternity of which are as Thomas speaks could start with the soles of your feet thank you very much indeed

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